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Spiritual Guidance: Let's talk about mana, baby

While Mr. Van Allen is getting his waistcoat pressed, Dawn Moore presents her weekly book club Spiritual Guidance, a healing guide for priests. Here you can expect some optimism, some cynicism and absolutely no Regency period clothing.

So, supposedly mana is going to be an issue for healers in Cataclysm. It's the word on the street, ya know? Everyone is talking about how we're not going to be able to spam this or that, and that we'll need to make better decisions with our spell selection. "Triage" is this year's vocabulary word. That old, busted spam style of healing is out, and the new "do damage, get mana" mechanic is supposed to be the new hotness. Of course, we priests are bound to be the superstars* of the next expansion; it's all pretty exciting, don't you think? Well, maybe not everyone feels that way, but that's why we have cake and counseling. Dawn motions to the door behind her.

So, in the short time I've written for WoW.com, I've noticed that the mana question is one that continually comes up. Is mana a problem? Is it not a problem? It seems like there isn't a single satisfactory answer I can give to everyone, but knowing mana might be a hurdle in the future for all of us, I figured now would be a good time to look back and ahead. So, let's talk about mana.

Up until now, I've talked about mana regen more in passing. I've touched on what to do when it's a problem or suggested how you can adjust your play to soothe a dwindling mana pool, but I've never really examined it at the level I'd like to. So, working off the understanding that knowledge is all you need, I have a few things to discuss. It might not be a step-by-step guide to not running out of mana, but it will give you some things to consider about why you might have been running OOM (out of mana),or how to combat going OOM in the future. I will at times talk from the perspective of, "Prepare for Cataclysm! Oh, no!" But you should actually be able to apply most of this to the present -- granted, this may be a year too late for some of you pros.

Understand how your mana regen works

They say knowledge is power, right? Well, understanding how your mana regeneration works can help you out a lot when the situation calls for it. Take a look.

Activated mana regen (cooldowns) The fastest and most noticeable way to get mana back is by using an activated mana regeneration ability. They're pretty obvious, but I'll go ahead and scribe 'em out for you:
  • Shadowfiend A cute, cuddly creature appears and attacks an enemy target you select, returning 5 percent of your maximum mana per hit he deals.
  • Hymn of Hope While twirling an exercise ball above your head, you receive 12 percent (3% x 4 ticks) of your maximum mana over 8 seconds. (That is, provided you're starved for mana; if you aren't one of the three players in a 40-yard range with the lowest mana pool, you won't be targeted to receive the buff.) In this statuesque pose, you'll contemplate titles by Ayn Rand, which incidentally raises your maximum mana by 20 percent temporarily. Take note that the 12 percent return draws from your 20 percent buffed mana pool, as opposed to your normal pool.
Reminder: Not long ago, I mentioned Avalonna's write-up on using Shadowfiend and Hymn of Hope at the same time. If you didn't check it out then, go ahead and do so now. She explains both abilities in fuller detail as well as the benefits of using them together.

When to use your cooldowns is the most important thing about them. In a fight where you're moving a lot, you'll want to make sure you save Hymn of Hope for when you've got 8 seconds to stay put. Boss transitions are good for this, but you don't want to use it too early (like in phase 1), because if you're not actually low on mana when you use it, the regen will get sucked up by other casters who are burning through their mana like a million quid. You also don't want to summon your cutie Shadowfiend right before your enemy target goes immune, underground or off into a hot air balloon. This means knowing the fights and paying attention to how far along you are in an encounter.

Talented "passive" regen Now, I'm not talking passive as in the 40 MP5 you have on that trinket or even the 50 percent continued regeneration you get from Meditation. What I'm referring to isn't actually passive regen at all; it's the regen you get from certain talents which activate based on what spells you cast. For disc priests, it's the talent Rapture; for holy, it's Holy Concentration. I say they're passive because whether you try to or not, you'll probably benefit from them by healing any old way. (You'd have to consciously try not to use them, honestly.) Anyway, even though the regen from these talent will be there no matter what you do, if you understand them and in turn, utilize them more intelligently, you'll see better results.
  • Rapture (discipline) When one of your Power Word: Shields is completely consumed, you will be returned 2.5 percent of your total mana. It doesn't matter how many shields you have out and active, as anyone can activate the Rapture return, but the return can only occur once every 12 seconds. There is, however, a little trick to the way the talent is designed so that if say ... two shields are consumed at the exact same time (and I mean exact), you'll get double the return. There is a favorite video here, which explains it. Check it out if you haven't seen it already.
  • Holy Concentration (holy) Whenever you crit with a Flash Heal, Greater Heal, Binding Heal or Empowered Renew, your spirit based regen increases by 50 percent. Basically this means that if you're facerolling your keyboard, you'll proc Holy Concentration. However, if you (for whatever reason) don't include those four spells in your rotation, either because you're weird focused on something else or the fight just calls for a very specific selection of spells and you're less likely to activate it, then you just need to make sure you keep it up. You want your uptime of this ability to be as high as possible. If you need a reminder to keep it up, Power Auras is something you might want to look into.
As far as managing your mana with these talents goes, it has to do with making simple adjustments in your play during combat. Think of how they tell you to drive defensively by always expecting other drivers to do the worst possible thing they could on the road. Well, play ... uhh... manafensively? Err ... whatever. "Consciously" works. Basically, if going OOM is consistently a problem, then start playing with your talented regen in mind. I know there are occasions where halfway through a fight I'll see that I don't have as much mana as I like (maybe the group comp is different than what I'm used to, or my replenishment disconnected), and I'll just start playing to make sure my shields are going out to the right people, like another healer, so they get the benefit from the shield breaking as well. This way, I can help out someone who might end up needing to cover for me if I go OOM. (I'll also switch to using my most efficient spells, but we'll get to that later.)

Now I know most fights haven't been super-strenuous for mana this expansion. Maybe Patchwerk, if you were in quest blues, or heroic Assembly of Iron in Ulduar, if you were using whatever strat my guild was using (I say this because I've had some people agree when I say that was a mana fight, and other people tell me I'm crazy; go figure). Those fights were few and far between in Wrath, but since we're expecting different in Cataclysm, it might be something you want to keep in mind for later. Watch your Holy Concentration uptime, and make sure to refresh it before it goes down. Try to time your Rapture procs to coincide with raid damage whenever you can. If you do these things for the entire duration of a fight, in addition to timing your cooldowns at the right moments, you'll usually be way ahead of the game, and all it requires is a bit of effort. Oh! Don't forget your consumables!

Your most expensive spells

Most of you have probably heard of HPS, and if you haven't, no worries! It stands for heals per second, and it is one of the ways healers measure and compare the amount of healing they do using meters or parses. (If you want to read more about HPS and meters, I discuss it a bit in this post here.) What you might not have heard of, however, is HPM, which stands for heals per mana. Basically it's how many points of healing you do for each point of mana spent, which is basically efficiency. Apparently, back in The Burning Crusade when mana was more of an issue, HPM was used by theorycrafters as a way to determine spell efficiency, particularly with downranked spells. In Wrath, HPM has been somewhat lost and forgotten just because mana wasn't much of an issue to most people once players got decent gear.

So with Blizzard saying mana will be something to watch in Cataclysm, I'd say it's possible HPM will become a topic of conversation again. (Granted, Blizzard is completely removing downranking, so maybe not.) Obviously our normal, fast and slow heals should scale as stated, but how drastically will each spell differ in efficiency? Will that stay balanced as the expansion progresses? Take a look at the HPM of spells we currently use in Wrath.

Spell HPM for disc. (with 3,650 SP) HPM for holy (with 3,889)
Prayer of Mending 51.5 54.6
Greater Heal 11.8 11.4
Flash Heal 11.7 11
Binding Heal 7.1 7.5
Renew 15.3 23.5
Power Word: Shield 16.6 (glyphed) 7.3
Penance 23.6 -
Circle of Healing - 5.2 (31.2 for 6 hits)(glyphed)
Prayer of Healing 3.1 (15.5 for 5 hits) 3.9 (19.5 for 5 hits)(glyphed)
Holy Nova 4.8 (24 for 5 hits)(glyphed) 3.8
Divine Hymn 12.1 14
Desperate Prayer 14.4 12.3

These HPM numbers were calculated by the DrDamage addon, using my own character with no self-buffs. Both specs were mostly cookie-cutter, but if you want to figure out the HPM of your own spells with your gear and talents, you can try out the addon or just divide your average heal by the mana cost on your tooltip.

As you can see, I made notations for which spells received extra support from glyphs. (Do you see now why I rave about Glyph of Holy Nova for disc?) Also, though I didn't have Glyph of Flash Heal bound in my holy spec, I checked that out and found that Flash Heal's HPM goes to 12.3 when glyphed. That's why Greater Heal was so hotly debated early in the expansion and ultimately why I think it fell out of practice. It was just too slow for the pacing of the fights and it was barely more efficient than Flash Heal. Meanwhile, a spell like Binding Heal is automatically less efficient because it's basically just casting two Flash Heals at once, but that's because it's supposed to be used in a bind. (See what I did there? Haha ... I'm terrible.) If you had the time to spare you could just use Renew on two people, but you choose Binding Heal because you and someone else needed heals now. Thus, efficiency goes down for the sake of emergency and survival.

Oh, by the way, Lightwell's HPM is around 200 (when glyphed) if all 10 charges are consumed. So it's basically the most efficient heal in the game. Oh, the trade-offs we must make for power.

Anyway, the reason for dishing out the little chart above is to give you an idea of how much bang you're getting for your buck. It's the reason I always tell you guys not to spam Prayer of Healing unless you need it, because it already tends to overheal on targets it does hit. Once you add in its terrible efficiency, all I see is waste. Keep in mind HPM doesn't account for overhealing, so those HPM numbers are only going to mean something when the spell you deliver is the spell that was needed. Fox made some weird analogy once about wearing the right thing to a party or using the right spice in a soup or something. Whatever it was, the idea was to use the right spell and not the easy spell (like AoE to heal or damage one to two targets.) Simple as it is, that's what you're going to want to be doing in Cataclysm or any encounter you're having mana problems on.

With that in mind, I suspect that in Wrath, people were using the spells they did because it was convenient, not because it was necessary. I once had a priest tell me, "I don't care how much I overheal, I just use my Spirit-World Glass; if I get low, hang back, and I'm back to full." (Spirit-based regen in early Wrath was ridiculously overpowered like that.) I was appalled that anyone would think like that about overhealing, but I had been healing since vanilla and that was just the way I looked at things in PvE. At the time, I thought she and everyone like her was just lazy, but now I figure most people like that just don't feel the need to make efficiency decisions when there are no penalties for just spamming shields or pressing Circle of Healing at every cooldown. That's what Blizzard doesn't like, so that's what Blizzard is trying to fix.

So how can HPM effect you? Well, the game constantly evolves. Patches come and go, and I'd say if mana does in fact become an issue in Cataclysm, you may want to occasionally write up an HPM chart for yourself like I did, and see for yourself what is a good spell to use. It may change as you gear up or as things get nerfed or buffed, so it's a good thing to be conscious of.

A last thought on gear in Cataclysm

When I rerolled to Alliance back in January, I immediately got dragged into Trial of the Crusader when I hit 80. I wasn't in a single piece of 232 tier 9, just my heirlooms, quest gear and I'm pretty sure a DPS trinket to boot. I did surprisingly well, and everyone made comment that my throughput was competitive. The problem was I couldn't maintain it, so they had to chain Innervates and time Hymn of Hope usage around me to keep me going. Time passed, though, and the more gear I got, the less help I needed. Before long, I was healing to my own beat again.

When I think about that, I also think back to when I hit 80 the first time when Wrath came out and I was healing heroics before going into Naxxramas. Back then, mana management was extremely difficult. Half of it was because everyone was in terrible gear, the other half because we didn't know what the hell we were doing. And while the story is a little different, I'm still hearing this can be a problem today for people playing alt healers (not just priests) and trying to gear up with the random dungeon finder. Groups are impatient and don't wait for you to drink, and before you know it, someone is dead because you're OOM. But after a week or two grinding out tier 9? Mana problems are long forgotten.

The reason I recount these stories is because it kind of shows how far gear took us in Wrath concerning mana. Ultimately, gear fixed all my problems and let me do things like drop my MP5 consumables for spellpower ones. I even switched out my meta gem (laugh it up, veteran readers). And since then, I've rarely ever had to go back to using those consumables. It's like I graduated from mana management school and found out it actually didn't have any use in the real world.

So when Blizzard says it wants mana to be an issue, I'm guessing that means gear in the future expansion is going to help, but it's not going to guarantee you won't go OOM anymore. I think mana is likely to be something you get a grasp of for a little while, then lose again -- something we'll always be working against, and all the gear in Azeroth won't fix it. Well, at least, that's my speculation.

Anyway that's it for now. I hope I gave you some good food for thought to apply to any bosses you might still be wrapping up, alts you're getting up to level, or future encounters you find down the road. Hearts and heals, everyone.

* At the very least, superstar DJs.

Want to find more great tips for carrying out your priestly duties? Spiritual Guidance has you covered with all there is to know. Check out Holy 101 or Disc 101 for an introduction to healing as a priest; for the party-minded healer, check out a priest's guide to tanks.

Filed under: Priest, (Priest) Spiritual Guidance

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